education

Martin County Ag Tour

A Day Celebrating Agriculture in Martin County

When you work in agriculture, it is easy to get pigeon holed into what you know or what you do on a daily basis. We are primarily cash crop farmers with a few livestock and honeybees. I grew up with various livestock on a feedlot scale, but the technology, techniques, housing, and practices have changed tremendously since I was younger, or what is on our farm since we are small-scale.

Martin County Ag Tour

We were greeted with our agenda for the day & Corn Niblets from Sunshine Suzy LLC! They were delicious and a perfect snack on the bus. You can find them at local Hy-Vee stores in the Martin County area.

It is one of the reasons I jump on any chance to learn more about agriculture in Minnesota and what my fellow farmers are doing. I was recently invited to spend the day in Martin County, about an hour from the Mankato area, learning about agriculture and its impact on the county. It was followed by a dinner called From the Ground Up – hosted by Project 1590. I am going to try to highlight a few of my takeaways (even as a person working in the industry) that I learned.

  1. Devenish Nutrition – I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even know this company existed until visiting their US Headquarters in Fairmont as part of this tour. They call themselves an agritechnology company that provides nutritional solutions to livestock – their business is generally 40% poultry 35% swine, 20% ruminant, and various livestock complete the rest. They are headquartered and founded in Ireland, and a connection with the Fairmont vet clinic brought them over to the Fairmont area. They have grown from 23 employees to 400, and do business in over 30 countries! They did say it can be a challenge to attract new talent to the community, but it was refreshing to see many of the employees were local to the area and have settled their with their families. Although I could probably go on and on about this company – I was fascinated – the things that struck me the most was their commitment to research. They have their own research barns, as well as barns contracted with farmers, to ensure their findings are real-world applicable. They are also doing research in if feeding animals superior feed, meaning you get a superior chicken breast or pork chop at the store, if and how that impacts human health. Pretty cool!

    Devenish Nutrition

    I am still in awe of all this company is doing since their expansion into the United States.

  2. Hen-Way Manufacturing – A farmer with a problem who created his own solution and the businesses exploded from there. That is the easiest way to describe this family built business. He was a hog farmer himself who couldn’t find the equipment he needed for the new barn styles, so he started building it himself, and pretty soon others started noticing, and ordering! This company also invested in their own solar panels to reduce their electric bill by 2/3 of what it was. But I think what I most enjoyed about this stop was the way the owner Lonny, talked about his family. He didn’t start off about the company or the products, but rather explained how they made it all work for their kids and grandkids to live nearby, work with them, and farm with them. He and his wife will be married 50 years this year. He was a man who made you want to do business with him.

    Hen-Way Manufacturing

    Welding was a skill that was in high demand at Hen-Way Manufacturing. As someone who used to promote careers in agriculture for a job, hearing their need for welders and those willing to work was something I understood.

  3. Elm Creek Agronomy – Elm Creek Agronomy is a Pioneer seed dealership and chemical sales company owned by two friends. It was  neat to see how an idea blossomed into a large business who now does soybean seed treatment for an entire region of dealers, including competitors! Here we were treated to lunch complete with high oleic soybean oil potato chips – made from soybeans that are being grown for the first time in Martin County to produce high oleic oil. Pioneer sells the Plenish brand seed that produces a more nutritious, longer lasting, and safer cooking oil!

    Elm Creek Agronomy

    Elm Creek Agronomy installed a new precision seed treater that serves many regional seed representatives.

  4. CHS – We were able to tour the CHS facility by bus with one of their employees. During harvest, they have over 1,500 trucks delivering soybeans per day – so many that they have to use the nearby fairgrounds for overflow! They ship out 50% of their meal by truck and another 50% by rail. Over 10 counties supply them with soybeans, so farmers from all over the region are trucking into this facility. For every bushel of soybean that comes into the plant, they can produce 42 pounds of soybean meal and hulls AND 1 1/2 gallons of soybean oil!
  5. Easy Automation – This company just floored me with where they started and where they are continuing to go. They haven’t been afraid of innovation, expansion and investment to get where they are going! Their company automates the facilities that make livestock feed. They deal in three areas: software, controls, and equipment. Their system allows traceability so they can track every single ingredient in case of a recall, and their systems are extremely accurate. They are currently working to innovate the water purification systems as well as decrease the overall cost of biofuel production with their new businesses. What I found most interesting what their committment to employees and communication in their business. Each employee had posted outside of their office space, the best ways to communicate with them and how they handle situations so you would know how to best interact. They also recently opened up a Mankato office in order to allow those that commute the option to work remotely a few days each week too.

    Easy Automation

    Easy Automation also manufactures equipment along with software and controls.

  6. Windmill Farm – I have always been fascinated by wind power. Mark and I have frequently talked about putting up a small wind turbine with a magnetic motor just to power our future honey house. The windmill farm we toured was huge! It was all because some area farmers got together and decided to invest in this new power generation system. There were different ways and options for area farmers to get involved by leasing land, buying into a turban or investing in the LLC they formed. These wind turbines spin at 188 mph when they are at pull production and have a life expectancy between 20-25 years. What I found interesting was in order to do maintenance on them, they have basically an ultrasound machine that scans the blade with ultrasonic photos to determine any issues! Neat how a system used for medicine crosses over into energy production.

    Windmill

    Windmill Farm in Martin County. In case you are wondering – each one has a lift assist in there to get to the top so you don’t really have to climb all those ladder rungs inside.

  7. Hog Barns – Our last stop on our day full of tours was a hog barn owned by a local 19-year-old. Yes, you read that right. 19 years old. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life (some days I still am) and this young man in college, had built his own barn and was now leasing it out to an area hog operation. They owned the hogs, he owned the building. His family said it was one way for him to work towards coming home to the farm. The electronics that control feed, water intake, heating and ventilation systems and just about everything else, are all available to check, change, and automate from smartphones and tablets. This allows this young man to attend college and be able to check on how much water the hogs are drinking all at the same time! It was quite impressive!

    hog barn automation

    Discussing the electronics and systems that control the hog barns from an iPad.

Working in a bigger city, I often hear how disconnected consumers are from the farm or rural Minnesota. We need to understand how rural Minnesota is an economic driver for our large cities. Martin County, although rural, is an economic hub full of entrepreneurial spirit that is making an impact at a local, state, national and international level! From opening a second office in Mankato to giving us the pork that is on our BBQ all summer long, we are impacted every single day by the farms and agriculture communities that make up Minnesota.

We ended the night at a dinner event called From the Ground Up, hosted by Project 1590. Project 1590’s mission is to enhance the vitality, livability and health within Martin County. The economic impact and driving force of agriculture within Martin County is very strong, something Project 1590 recognizes and From the Ground Up serves as a fundraising event each year that connects consumers with farmers and their food.

Decor at From the Ground Up

The rustic decor at the tables was gorgeous.

From the Ground Up

Our menus and programs for the evening. Sons of Butchers catered the event – Martin County natives and now a BBQ team.

Food at From the Ground Up

Sons of Butchers BBQ. I even tried the spicy jalapeno sausage and it was actually quite good – even if I had to guzzle water after ;)

The food was amazing, as were the people. One of the farmers I met, I actually had interviewed her sister at my previous job for a story so it was fun to make that connection and learn a little more about their operation through dinner time. It was also fun to learn why people stayed in the community after moving there for a job. At the end of the night, I was wishing I was moving to the Fairmont area after hearing how amazing it was to raise a family there.

It was a beautiful evening full of great food and great conversation. I ended my night by fueling up at a local gas station before making the trek back home, only to be met by faces of cattle starting back at me on the other side of the pumps. It truly was where the county meets the city, and a slice of a thriving rural area that Minnesota shouldn’t take for granted.

At the end of the day, we should all learn a little more about what makes the areas of this state tick and how they are all interrelated. If we start to understand the full circle a bit more, and the impact the agriculture sector has on everything from electronics to the trucking industry, maybe the conversations we have will continue to be about collaboration and moving our communities forward to the future.

Thank you to Martin County, the Project 1590 crew, and all the volunteers for a wonderful day and an eye-opening experience for farm kid/farmer/ag employee who continues to learn all she can about this great industry!

-Sara 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 5: Looking to the Future

Vietnam is a country of 94 million people. Of that, nearly 70% of the population is 40 and under. That makes for a very young population, that is looking to the future of Vietnam.

The amount of entrepreneurs in Vietnam never ceased to amaze me. From the pop-up shops on corners, to the rows and rows of fresh vegetables and fruits at the market, to the fact that every single house sat on top of a coffee shop, a seamstress shop or a leather shop, you were completely immersed in the commerce of the country. You could hop on a motor scooter for $20 or a quick ride if you were brave enough, and Jeff in our group was brave enough!

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It seemed as everyone was working or operating a business in some shape or form. The towns were always bustling, people were drinking coffee or having lunch with friends and family, and people were making sales in their shops.

The fact that Vietnam does have a very young population means that the country will have to look towards job growth in both public and private sectors. Poverty is a problem in the country. The country has already started to initiate certain workforce programs. We were able to visit one restaurant, called KOTO, that had a really awesome mission. KOTO stand for Know One, Teach One because learning should be passed on and knowledge is meant to be shared. It definitely fit exactly what we were all doing there with MARL. KOTO has two training centers, on in Hanoi and one in Saigon, where they train students in the hospitality industry. The idea is to give students practical, tangible skills and assistance to gain employment in the fast growing restaurant and hotel industries in Vietnam. They learn English as part of their training as well.  The concept was simple – provide the training and it will help uplift them from poverty through skills and employment. We decided as a group to donate a brick for their wall. If you donated a set amount towards their mission, you were able to have an engraved brick go up in their restaurant. So if you ever visit Koto in Hanoi when you are in Vietnam, check for a brick with MARL Class VIII on the wall.

We were also able to visit an art shop where they worked to employ youth either in painting, crafting, sales and business. I purchased a few items while I was there, a cute whimsical painting for Harper’s room of a cow, a chicken and a spotted egg, as well as a silk embroidered scene of Vietnam.

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I talked about how we were able to visit the Reunification palace my last post. The reunification palace was renamed as such to serve as a symbol for the reunification of North and South Vietnam moving forward after the war. The country has moved forward after the war. Their tourism industry is thriving, and understandably slow. The people we encountered at our restaurants, our hotels, and our tour guides were all amazing. They were kind, generous, helpful, and very friendly.

Outside of the reunification palace.

Outside of the reunification palace.

The country is focused on growing their economy through trade. When we visited the TCIT terminal in the Cai Mep port, they talked about growth and how important the TPP agreement was to them. They built to be able to expand and take in more goods as well as ship out more goods. Their utilization was only at about the 65% level, so increased utilization was built into their initial business growth platform because they knew their business would be growing.

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The country does have to work on things like infrastructure – did I mention the electrical is a bit questionable there? And they are in the process of building roadways and a new airport. It just takes a very long time in Vietnam. Corruption within their government entities is a very real issue.

I do believe with such a young population, this country will be an exciting one to follow with where they go with trade, business, and tourism moving forward. The flight is a doozy to get over there, but so, so worth it if you are looking for a place to travel.

My trip to Vietnam was life changing, and one that I don’t think I will ever get to repeat any time soon. The people, the food, the colors, the smells, the scenes…everything was just breath-taking. I don’t think my words could ever do it justice. I hope you enjoyed my series exploring my MARL trip to Vietnam. I am so thankful that the MARL board sent us to this amazing place.  If you are a MN resident, especially a MN farmer, consider applying for the next MARL class. Applications are open through May 17th. 

-Sara

A series on Vietnam…Part 3: Agriculture

One of our main reasons for visiting Vietnam was to learn about the agriculture industry in another country. We wanted to know more about how our imports to the country are used, how livestock are raised, what the economic values of certain crops were, and how food was treated overall. At the end of the day, 75% of us in MARL are active producers, so seeing agriculture up close in another country is one of those things that make us all giddy inside.

Rice is one of the main staples of food dishes and the agriculture economy in Vietnam. We were able to visit with a rice farmer, and see first-hand how rice is grown. Luckily for us, since we traveled from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, we were able to see an entire crop’s life cycle from planting to transplanting to harvesting to burning off the fields at the end.

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

A Vietnamese farmer transplanting rice

I never really thought much about the rice I eat until I saw all of the hard labor that these farmers put into their product. At the end of the day the might make $500 a year for their crop, and they might get 2 crops a year in the North, and 3 in the South. They transplant all the rice into perfectly straight rows because when they plant it they just sort of throw it into the field so it seeds itself in clumps. Most still hand harvest all the rice, but some do own a small harvesting machine.

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Burned off rice fields after harvest

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

Out walking in one of the rice paddies.

We were able to tour a pineapple farm. I knew pineapple grew on bushes, although some in our group thought they grew on trees. Pineapple is hand harvested here as well. I don’t think I would like that job – they are very spikey! We learned that the smaller the pineapple, the sweeter it is. The Pineapple farm is also in the process of diversifying so they have planted passion fruit as well. Passion fruit grows much like our grapes do, on vines utilizing a trellis system. The Passion fruit then hangs down underneath and is picked when ripe. If you haven’t had passion fruit yet, I highly recommend you try it. It is delicious!

Pineapple!

Pineapple!

Passion Fruit Vines

Passion Fruit Vines

When we visited the pineapple farm, we were able to speak with some of the farmers that operate a section of it. The farmers also had honeybees in their yard. It was interesting to see how bees were raised in another country, and another climate. For them, they basically just get a continuous flow of honey at all times, rather than here in Minnesota where we have to let the hive build up enough honey stores to winter them over.

honey bee hive in Vietnam

honeybee hive in Vietnam

We were also able to tour an organic veggie farm where they were using seaweed for their fertilizer. They grow a lot of herbs there, lettuces, chives, and sprouts. They have easy access to seaweed which is known as a fantastic fertilizer full of nutrients for plants. The farmers dig about  4 inches down in the dirt, place the seaweed in and then cover the bed with dirt again. They the plant directly into the bed. We were able to practice watering some of their vegetables…although I’m not sure any of us did a very good job!

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

lettuce leaves at the organic farm

Organic gardens

Organic gardens – some of the netting you see in the back is an attempt to keep birds away

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

I am thankful for water hoses, sprinklers and irrigation systems!

Aren't all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt...I'm ready to garden now!

Aren’t all those shades of green beautiful? And that freshly turned dirt…I’m ready to garden now!

Fishing is also a large part of agriculture over there. They use a few different net systems – one a hand net, and the other one is a large net that is raised and lowered “mechanically” (speaking loosely on mechanically here) to catch the fish. there are also many fishing boats that go out to the ocean.  There is also a lot of fresh water fish available – basa fish, similar to our cat-fish (and there is a lot of controversy over the industry there) are readily available. There aren’t limits here, and size isn’t part of catch limits either. Some of the fish they would fry to eat were tiny! As I stated before, Oyster farming is also huge down there. It was interesting to see how they were raised vertically in the water.

I'm not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

I’m not really sure how you even eat those tiny guys! I definitely came away with a new appreciation for the laws we have involving fishing in the US!

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of many fishing boats we saw.

One of our favorite stops, was to a modern hog operation in Vietnam. The owner raises primarily Duroc hogs, and was very interested in what the Duroc’s looked like where we were from. The owner new his data everything from average birth weight to the size of litters to how many head he would keep for replacement versus sell. The hogs were kept in what I would call more of an open confinement system. It reminded me of the hog farm I grew up on as we had an outdoor, open feed lot for our hogs. The manure handling system at this farm, was not something you see at a typical US hog farm. They separate the liquids and solids, and bag the solids for fertilizer. In the US typically hog manure is pumped and spread on the field as one, not separated.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

Some of the boars at the hog operation.

The manure separating setup.

The manure separating setup.

But, I think the strangest thing we encountered at the hog operation was the tattooing of hogs. From what we gathered through our interpreter, was that he uses the tattoo as a way of marketing his hogs – kind of like showing them off or making them fancy for the market there. By doing so, his competitors and buyers know that they are getting a good hog because the tattoo shows it is one of his hogs and his are prized.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Some of the tattoos this hog featured already.

Tattooing a pig.

Tattooing a pig.

Agriculture in Vietnam uses a lot of Water Buffalo to plow fields, provide beef and even milk. Not many things are done with a skid loader or a tractor, but with the water buffalo. Water buffalo are an important piece of agriculture in Vietnam because without it, they would have to be working fields completely by hand, and they wouldn’t be providing the beautiful leather hand bags many of us purchased in Vietnam as well.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Water buffalo being used for getting a rice paddy ready for planting.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Yes, I road a Water Buffalo.

Agriculture looks vastly different over in Vietnam just because so much of it is done by hand. The prices they earn for their products are drastically lower as well, part of this is because of it being a communist country. There isn’t really a free market to help set the price. They have different weather issues so things like grain storage and animal housing look different or operate differently.

That being said, it also looks the same. They don’t get to control the end price of their product, just like many of us here that farm. They care about bettering their operations and are searching out ways to do so. They are also worried about the same things we are – the weather and the prices. Their families work alongside them, just like many of ours do too. Some farms are multi-generational just at our farms are here in the US.

I really appreciate the work, the detail, the dedication every one of the farmers we visited with displayed. They love what they do, just like we do.  Many of them are continuing the family farm, and at the end of the day, you have a lot of respect for everything they do to provide a living for their families.

-Sara 

A Series on Vietnam…Part 2: The People

One question I’ve gotten a lot has been “What was the best part of your trip?” My answer has been easy, the people.

The people we encountered in Vietnam were fantastic. The hospitality we received was over the top everywhere we went. I’m talking about a group of 30 Americans dropping in on homes, farmers working, and more, and they rolled out all the stops to talk with us, make us feel comfortable, and open up their homes to us. Every single place we went we were greeted with tea, smiles, and asked if we needed anything or if everything was up to our satisfaction.

There are a few people who stand out in my mind that we encountered.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

The farmer telling us about her rice paddies.

One of the first farmers we visited was kind of on a whim. Our bus has pulled over to a rest stop and we asked earlier if we could see some of the rice paddies up close. Our tour guide went across the road and set up and arrangement with one of the women who was transplanting rice to speak with us. In Vietnam, women are some of the hardest workers out there. Women are often seen in the fields versus men. The men are often seen socializing, drinking, or playing games with others as that is often their job – to be social – while women are working.

At first, this woman was embarrassed because she was dirty, and was worried she didn’t look very nice. But as farmers, we all completely understood what it was like to be muddy and in work clothes. She talked to us about her work, and what she did all with a smile on her face. A few of my classmates thought they would try transplanting rice with her. I think it was an art form none of us were cut out for. She had straight lines and was so quick it was unbelievable. Whitney, Ben, and Lona on the other hand definitely struggled a bit. They all said they came away with a new-found appreciation for just how hard that is, even just staying in the bent position for so long while transplanting.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Ben, Whitney and Lona attempting to transplant rice in the paddies.

Next, was the farm family that our bus dropped in on while touring pineapple fields. We were allowed to go see the fields and tour them, but being that we are a bunch of rural folks for the most part, we wanted to talk with those who were working in the fields. Again, our tour guide went and asked a family up the way if we could talk with them about the pineapple farm we were visiting. They graciously opened their home to us to come visit with them, see their kitchen, ask questions, meet their family, and so much more. They gave us a glimpse into what life was really like for them, and the culture of family that was so important to them.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

Our entire group meeting with the Pineapple Farmer and his family.

When one of my classmates asked what was most challenging for them as pineapple farmers, the farmer answered the weather and prices. We all laughed at that answer. We went half-way around the world, and found common ground with them, as that is exactly what we worry about as farmers back home.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

They opened up their home to us and offered us all tea.

Even though we had a language barrier with the family, we were able to communicate with smiles, gestures and with the power of technology, photos on iPhones! One classmate, Luke, gave one of our Minnesota gifts to the farmer. The farmer reached up and hugged him and even kissed him on the cheek with tears in his eyes! Clearly, this was a pretty special moment for all of us, but I think Luke had the experience of a lifetime with that gesture!

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

The family hand harvests all the pineapple. The father, has retired and now his sons take care of him and his wife.

Finally, I want to talk about our last tour guide, Steven. Steven had quite the story about his Dad and the Vietnam War. One choice by his Dad set the course for their life in Vietnam post-war. Steven often said he asked his Dad why he didn’t go to America to make a better life. He said many times, he would love to come back to the U.S. with us.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven got a few of us to try out holding the snake. I was not one of them.

Steven was an amazing tour guide. He was extremely knowledgeable, extremely gracious, and we had an absolute blast following his pink raccoon around all of our tour sites. We never left anyone behind so his trick must have worked on our big group! Steven worked hard to make sure our every need was met as a group, and dealing with all of us can be quite tricky sometimes! When the request was made to try real, roadside Vietnamese coffee, he found the perfect spot for us and even paid for all of us! Mind you it was only $17 for all of us to have coffee, but what an awesome gesture of hospitality!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

Steven was an awesome tour guide!

I think what struck me most about Steven was how entrepreneurial he was. He operated as a tour guide for hire and you can follow him on Facebook if you ever visit Vietnam and need a tour guide – I highly recommend him! Plus, he owned real estate that he rented out or would sell at a later date when the prices increased with the growing tourism and economic state of Vietnam.

We received these stand-out encounters with everyone we met from those who rowed us in Sampans to those who greeted us at hotels. We asked, and they delivered. We
loved learning about their culture from their love of family to their work ethic. I want to end this post with some additional photos of the faces we met in Vietnam. I don’t think my snapshots do justice to the people we encountered, but I wanted to share a few just the same.

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-Sara

A Series on Vietnam…Part 1: Water

In February, I was able to take the trip of a lifetime with my MARL (MN Agriculture and Rural Leadership) classmates. Our international trip one of the big things we all look forward to as participants of MARL. The only catch, when you sign up, you have no idea where you are going. We started in November of 2014, and didn’t know where we were going until June of 2015, when it was announced that we would be traveling half-way across the world to Vietnam!

Waiting to get on the plane! Nothing like a 4am flight time!

Waiting to get on the plane! Nothing like a 4am flight time!

There is no way I can cover my trip in one blog post, so I am going to be doing a series of 5 posts covering 5 topics from the trip. There might be a little overlap or stories used twice because they fit both places so hang with me!

Views of Vietnam from one of our hotels - notice the differences in housing!

Views of Vietnam from one of our hotels – notice the differences in housing!

Here are the topics I will be covering in my series–

  1. Water
  2. People
  3. Agriculture
  4. Vietnam War
  5. Looking to the Future

So to start this series off…

The whole time I was in Vietnam my news feedback home was filling up with post after post about the Governor’s water summit. Some were pretty negative, others positive. The small protest that ended up being part of it just proved once again it is better to be part of the conversation working towards a solution than just looking foolish. Now, if we were in Vietnam and that happened you would have landed in jail.

You know how sometimes you have to travel somewhere else to see what it is like to realize just how good you have it…well, that was how it was for me in Vietnam. I was talked to before I left on the trip multiple times about how I should only drink sealed bottled water, and to be diligent about making sure it was sealed. I was told to never have ice in my drinks. This was all because Vietnam lacks clean drinking water, something we take for granted every single day.

Hoi An was a very popular tourist destination. They placed lanterns in the Thu Bon river every evening.

Hoi An was a very popular tourist destination. They placed lanterns in the Thu Bon river every evening.

Yes, we have clean drinking water. We are concerned with parts per billion, and over there they are importing bottled water from the United States. They drink purified water out of coolers, and all their ice comes from a single shop for safety. I never once brushed my teeth with water from the tap. How many of us can say that we can’t do that at home?

I was also surprised by the amount of trash in Vietnam. The lack of garbage disposal was seen from Hanoi all the way to Saigon. We all mentioned multiple times just the lack of trash bins in general. We are so used to seeing trash bins on corners, in parks and other public spaces, as well as recycling options here in the U.S. that it was weird to see a country without that. It is such a norm for us, that I would have never even realized that garbage disposal would be an issue. The trash often finds its way to the rivers and the ocean.

Vietnam is 4th in the world for plastic pollution in the ocean. It was definitely noticeable. I think about our rivers, streams, and lakes and the clean-up efforts that surround them, and even without those clean-up efforts, they aren’t even a fraction of how littered the streams and channels in Vietnam were.

As farmers, we often complain about over regulation, and truth be told, there are times where we are over regulated, but touring a country where health regulations concerning things like trash, chemicals, and pollution weren’t really at the forefront, really puts into perspective how our regulations and systems are put in place for a reason.

There is a fine line between enough regulation, not enough, and too much. That is something that every country will need to figure out.

That being said, the water issues they clearly have in Vietnam didn’t take away from being in awe of their irrigation and drainage systems for their rice paddies. The systems of gates and channels they used was so simple, yet so complex that it was easy to understand why they continued to utilize them. Although, they do transfer water by hand with a basket or bucket from some fields, and that is something I am glad we do not have to do.

Check out the system - double duty as irrigation and drainage! Lets water in and lets it out!

Check out the system – double duty as irrigation and drainage! Lets water in and lets it out!

Trying to water the chives. I don't think she was very impressed with my skill.

Trying to water the chives. I don’t think she was very impressed with my skill.

We spent some of the time on a cruise of Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is considered to be part of the new 7 Wonders of Nature, and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I had never been on an actual cruise, so it was fun to spend a few nights on the water, and explore Vietnam on the water.  We were able to visit the Surprise Grotos as part of this trip as well.

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Where the "Dragons Descended into the Sea"

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Where the “Dragons Descended into the Sea”

A group of us in the Surprise Grotos.

A group of us in the Surprise Grotos.

We spent a lot of time touring by boat while we were in Vietnam, which lets me get a glimpse into how important water truly is to their livelihoods. We were rowed in sampan boats – sometimes our rowers were rowing with their feet! We were able to see how much of the Vietnamese culture depends on the water as we visited fisherman, where we got to try our hand at casting nets. I never realized how heavy the nets were, and they definitely make it look effortless when they throw them out. We were also able to see some of their floating markets, and learned that people will come from other villages for weeks at a time to buy and sell goods on the water. We even got to ride in a basket boat – a small boat that they used to use for fishing. I honestly can’t imagine ever fishing from one, just being in one with our rower bailing water every 10 minutes made me nervous!

Rowing along in a Sampan!

Rowing along in a Sampan!

Basket boats - balance is key people! Yes, I was brave and got in one of these - no standing up for me!

Basket boats – balance is key people! Yes, I was brave and got in one of these – no standing up for me!

I tried casting a fishing net - I don't think I passed that test.

I tried casting a fishing net – I don’t think I passed that test.

We also realized how important the oyster industry was both for eating and for pearl harvesting. We visited a pearl visitor  center where we learned about how pearl quality is determined and how they are harvested. We also passed many oyster farms on the trip as well. We unfortunately, weren’t allowed to visit the actual oyster raising parts due to disease. It was interesting that they had watch towers placed in case of theft. This part of the industry obviously depends completely on water!

Pearl oysters in tanks at the visitor center.

Pearl oysters in tanks at the visitor center.

They were showing us how they were extracting pearls from the oysters.

They were showing us how they were extracting pearls from the oysters.

Oysters for eating - not for pearls, are raised here.

Oysters for eating – not for pearls, are what is in this photo. We were told the oysters we had on the boat were from this farm.

We also visited a terminal, Top Clients in top Terminal (TCIT) at the Tan Cang – Cai Mep port. Obviously, this kind of business is completely dependent on water. It was really interesting to see some of their maps and where their container ships go. The TCIT terminal is a joint venture with Vietnam, Korea, and Singapore with Vietnam owning a 51% stake, and they are the largest terminal in the port. It is kind of hard to fathom how some of our products get from one destination to the next, and it isn’t something I routinely think of when I pick out an item from the store. It was really eye-opening to hear how they are working to expand business and how they set themselves apart from their competition at other ports. It was also interesting to hear about how one of their ships literally just broke apart in the sea with containers floating all over. Needless to say, their insurance got to deal with that one!

Our group at the TCIT terminal in the Cai Mep port.

Our group at the TCIT terminal in the Cai Mep port.

Some of the routes of service the TCIT terminal has to deliver and pick-up goods.

Some of the routes of service the TCIT terminal has to deliver and pick-up goods.

These cars were delivered from Japan via shipping container and will soon be on the road in Vietnam.

These cars were delivered from Japan via shipping container and will soon be on the road in Vietnam.

Vietnam depends heavily on water from irrigating their crops to finding sources for clean drinking water to shipping goods or receiving goods. It is easy to take for granted what we have here in the United States, and how well our system and regulations really do work at the end of the day.

Watch for post 2….all about the amazing people we encountered in Vietnam!

-Sara 

Gotta Get Down on Friday…With Folding Laundry

Rebecca Black has ruined any other catchy “TGIF” phrase out there for Fridays. Any time I try to think of something, that song starts playing in my head. Make it stop. Please.

This week has been absolutely crazy. Mark is now in week #2 of his new position working with farmers on precision agriculture and soil sampling, and it involved a quick trip 5 hours south of us this week.  This left Harper and I on our own for a few days. We survived, although I’m pretty sure my supper one night involved a few handfuls of cheddar popcorn and a Reese’s pumpkin. It felt a bit like late night studying for finals back in college.

Monday, I moderated the Farm Bureau Collegiate Discussion Meet that was held at South Central College. I always walk away from these meets with new perspectives on issues in agriculture, but also with confidence about the future of agriculture because if students just like those that competed continue to work with such passion about what they do, agriculture will only  continue to improve and grow.

Congratulations to all who participated!

Congratulations to all who participated!

I also served on a committee for program review from the student perspective this week. Mark and I are “continued education” learners in agriculture through the Farm Business Management program. The program and education we have received, has been extremely beneficial to the success of our farm. I honestly don’t think we would be where we are with our honey bees if it wasn’t for the program really helping us figure out a business plan and getting our funding in order.

Yesterday, I was up at the state Farm Bureau office with the state resolutions committee, looking over the resolutions counties had submitted to be voted on at our annual meeting. Last year was my first year doing it, I had never done it before, so I try hard to learn more about the process. I’m sure sometimes they think I’m asking a stupid question, but it is a big learning opportunity, and I want to make sure I’m not missing something when I’m serving on the committee. I find myself often prefacing with “This may be a dumb question, or I just need some clarification…” so thanks to all those that are willing to teach the younger farmers moving in to some of these positions! Our policy team in MN does a fantastic job, and I am so thankful they are willing to help clarify the issues and shed light when needed.

Working on sorting through the county resolutions.

Working on sorting through the county resolutions.

So tonight, will involve catching up on laundry…so much laundry. Who knew one baby could produce more laundry than her mom and dad combined? Netflix and laundry should be the new phrase if you ask me!

Harper had her 6 month photos in October, and since we got them back this week, I figured I’d share one of them with you!

Harper - 6 months

Harper – 6 months

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy your weekend. We are finishing up our final class of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class this weekend, and getting some projects done around the house. It is also deer opener here in Minnesota. I won’t be going out this year, for the first time in a long time, but I am wishing everyone else a successful hunt and sending prayers for safety.

-Sara

 

 

 

Minnesota takes over Washington, D.C.

Last week, MARL Class 8 took over Washington, D.C.! 28 of us plus Mike and Stacy (our fantastic coordinators), traveled as a large group to D.C. for our national seminar. We had an early morning flight, arriving at the airport around 4:30am, but Washington greeted us with sunny, 40 degree weather on our first day, fooling us into thinking we escaped Minnesota winter!

Day 1 in Washington D.C.

Our first day included an introduction to D.C., as well as an “Amazing Race” throughout D.C. We got to learn about D.C. a bit more, and enjoy a stop at the Dubliner for supper.

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes!  Photo by Lona Rookaird

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes! Photo by Lona Rookaird

Day 2 in Washington, D.C.

We were able to choose between 2 different embassy visits. I chose to visit the Australian Embassy. Traveling to Australia has been on my bucket list since about 6th grade, and their landscape, population and ag industry fascinates me. I found out some very interesting facts – that Australia is roughly the same size as the U.S., however it has a much smaller population and around 80% of their population is concentrated around the coast line.

The U.S. is the number one importer of Australian wine, which I never knew either, and overall for the last year, we rank about 4th in terms of trade dollars with Australia.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

I found it interesting that Australia really doesn’t have any kind of beginning farmer programs. They don’t consider smaller farmers like we do, beginning farmer or farmers at all really. In the U.S. we count small acreage,  vegetable farmers, CSA type farms, etc. all in as farming operations. Australia does not. In order to count in their data, you must have a large number of cattle, sheep, acreage, etc.

I also found it interesting that Australia does not like the U.S. Farm Bill due to their belief of the impact is has on trade and the global market. They also have a very interesting program called the “Farm Management Deposit Account” which allows farmers to deposit funds on good years, tax-free, to use during the difficult times to pay bills and keep the farm operation running. This allows farmers in essence, to take care of themselves, rather than on a good year purchase equipment to find a tax write-off like we often do here in the U.S. We suggested this program to both of our senators and our representatives as something to consider.

A group of us chose to visit the Holocaust museum. I will be completely honest – my history classes growing up glossed over the Holocaust, so this was a very eye-opening experience for me. I had tears the entire way through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the U.S. did absolutely nothing to stop these horrors, and frankly, in certain situations around the world, we are letting it happen again. I have family that is Jewish, and I walked away with an entire different outlook for their religious beliefs, the persecution they went through and the history they now possess.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

 I took 2 photos throughout the museum – one of the entrance where “holocaust” was illuminated as to me, it just set the mood for the entire museum, and one of how Denmark was one of the only countries to come to the aid of the Jewish communities. Wanda Patsche at Minnesota Farm Living and I both ended up taking the photo for the same reasons – we are of Danish decent, so this was an interesting part of our own history as well. I second her thoughts on feeling guilty just for taking the two photos I did. I sat in the Hall of Remembrance for about 30 minutes with tears just streaming down my face as I thought of the 1 million children who died, the women, the elderly…. Those who were worked to death. The humiliation and shame they were put through all because someone had so much hatred in their heart. It is just hard to fathom – all of it. I am still struggling with processing all I learned. An image that sticks with me from the museum was a strappy gold sandal in the shoe pile area. I think of the woman who dressed up for her departure in her fanciest shoes, not knowing the fate that awaited her, and how today that strappy gold sandal now sits in among a pile of shoes in the museum, never knowing whether the owner survived or was killed.

Day 3 in Washington, D.C.

We started off Day 3 with a visit to the United States Department of Agriculture. Here I found out that Baby Girl Hewitt really loves ag statistics! I think she might have a future career with the USDA at the rate she was moving around during the meeting!

I found some of the information about the new Climate Hubs the most interesting as I worked on some of the regional Climate Hub establishment for one of my classes for my Master’s. I’m glad they are learning to work with farmers in order to find out what issues they are dealing with and how they can help during climate change and adverse weather events, rather than preaching a “doomsday” approach to it.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

We met with Congressman Collin Peterson, who is the minority (DFL) ranking member of the House Agricultural Committee. Congressman Peterson was first elected in 1990, so he knows Minnesota and he knows agriculture. Anyone who knows him, knows that he truly votes for what is best for Minnesota, and he tells it like it is. He doesn’t shy away from anything in politics, and frankly, isn’t afraid to tell you when something is nonsense in terms of what is happening in agriculture. He is one of my favorites to meet with when I can.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

I also met with Representative Tim Walz, who is my district representative. I have met with Congressman Walz before, and I enjoy listening to him and what he is passionate about every time I meet with him. Mark and I met with him in September of 2014 while in D.C., and have an interesting story of him catching us again while he was going for his daily run on the Mall. He later mentioned us during another meeting he was speaking at in Minnesota. Young and beginning farmers really matter to Walz, as does veterans affairs – two topics he is very passionate and vocal about.

 Day 4 in Washington, D.C.

 Day 4 started off with a tour of the White House. We went through quite a bit of security – 4 check points in fact, just to get in, and we had to have a ticket/invitation ahead of time at that! I’m not quite sure what I expected from the White House, but I was a little disappointed by the tour. I expected something larger, grander, more intricate. I also was not impressed with the President and First Lady’s choice of artwork for the dining room. The tour was self-guided and only lasted maybe 20 minutes, if that. I did find it interesting that the rooms were named by color and everything in them reflected that – red room, blue room and the green room.

Next, many of my MARL  classmates headed out to professional appointments with various organizations such as the National Biodiesel Board, The Association for Land Grant Universities, Sierra Club and Feeding America. However, Being 8 months pregnant, decided to take an afternoon of rest where I grabbed a sandwich and fruit from a local cafe in one of the John’s Hopkins buildings, caught up on homework and work emails, and took a nap! Even with comfortable shoes, walking up to 8 miles a day some times was a bit much for this lady!

We ended the day with a fun evening at American Farm Bureau where we met up with similar cohort groups from Illinois, Washington and South Dakota. Our group of various state members, chose to go eat at the Hamilton in D.C. It was a very large restaurant with a delicious menu. As everyone else ordered drinks – I got a toasted marshmallow milkshake! :)

Day 5 in Washington, D.C.

Day 5 started off with a snow storm in D.C., making our government run 2 hours behind. However, being the troopers we are from Minnesota, it didn’t stop us or our Senators! We met with both Klobuchar and Franken to discuss ag issues and things like the Keystone Pipeline and rail lines.

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar - She has been amazing for ag in office!

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar – She has been amazing for ag in office! Photo by Lona Rookaird.

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Meeting with Senator Franken to discuss rail and pipeline issues. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

 Next, we were able to take a tour of the Capitol. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip! Although we didn’t get quite the full tour, I found out lots of interesting information. The architecture, paintings and sculptures in the Capitol are simply amazing. It was such a fun history lesson about Minnesota too! Minnesota was the last state to have their statehood debated in the Senate Chambers which I thought was pretty neat! I also thought how they marked where certain key representative’s desks were on the former House floor was pretty cool too. It was a little inspiring to be standing in the same place that Abe Lincoln and John Quincy Adams stood.

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed "off the record" Photo by Lona Rookaird

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed “off the record” Photo by Lona Rookaird

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Plaque marking where Abe Lincoln’s desk was during his time as a representative on the old House Floor. Honestly, I loved these – so cool to be standing where so many history shaping figures stood at one point!

Day 6 in Washington, D.C.

Day 6 was our last day in the area. We loaded up on a tour bus a 7am and headed out to see Gettysburg and Eisenhower’s farm. I was looking forward to this part of the trip tremendously. We have the original land deed document signed by Abe Lincoln that has to do with giving land to those who lost spouses in the Civil War from the woman my family purchased our farm site from. So this was kind of connecting a piece of my farm’s history to an event miles and miles away that altered the history of our country forever.

The video we watched was very moving and a quote that stuck out to me as we discussed leadership and displays of leadership throughout this trip was

“Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”

Those words just resonated with me – freedom is not free. Freedom in America will always be hated by some and it will always need to be fought for, because oppression is forever a part of the world we live in. It is unfortunate, but I am thankful for the leaders from our military, in politics, and every day people who choose to stand up or what they believe in and exercise their right for freedom.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

The cyclorama at Gettysburg is a very interesting piece of art that makes the battle come alive as you watch and listen to the presentation. It is an original oil canvas that spans 42 feet high and 377 feet in circumference and was fully restored to depict the Gettysburg battle scene and Pickett’s Charge. It really is something to see in person that you can’t quite describe in a photo or on a blog.

Next we went on a guided tour of the battlefield grounds. It was interesting to see which buildings were standing during the war, and some had plenty of bullet holes still visible in them! The sheer number of monuments at Gettysburg is just as interesting as the history of the battle! Many, many lives were lost in the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps most interesting was essentially, the suicide mission of the single brigade from Minnesota. Minnesota lost a significant number of their troops as their job was to buy time for the other Union soldiers. Minnesota has not one, but two monuments at Gettysburg due to their act of bravery.

We also visited Eisenhower’s farm. Eisenhower entertained many different guests at his farm, and his wife kept a very detailed guest book you were required to sign if you visited – even the grandchildren had to sign in! I actually enjoyed the pink bathrooms and monogrammed towels and linens that Mamie had in the house – very posh for the time frame of their presidency and home. I loved the built-in closets and cabinetry that were constructed as part of the farm-house.

Eisenhower farm still has a black Angus herd that is owned and operated by a local farmer on the property. He has to have black Angus because this was the breed of cattle that President Eisenhower had originally on the farm. However, Eisenhower’s cattle were show cattle, winning many ribbons at various shows and fairs.

It was back on the bus to head to the airport for a late flight home! I think we were all pretty exhausted by this point after such a busy week – both mentally and physically. However, I am always in awe at our Nation’s Capitol, and I always discover new information, history and relationships while I am out there. I am so thankful for being able to share these opportunities and experiences with my MARL classmates, and learn from them and with them!

MARL Class 8 in D.C.

MARL Class 8 in D.C.

-Sara